A group of panhandlers has filed a class-action federal lawsuit and are seeking an emergency injunction against Chicago police officers they say habitually remove them from Michigan Avenue, where it is legal to ask for money.
The nine Chicago residents involved say they have video and photographic evidence of police officers telling them it's illegal to beg on the Magnificent Mile and threatening to arrest them, according to CBS Chicago. But lawyers representing the group insist the city doesn't define any areas where panhandling isn't allowed.
“[The Chicago Police Department is] presently engaged in a constitutionally abusive practice of illegally removing panhandlers from select portions of Michigan Avenue by fraudulently telling them that it is illegal to panhandle there and threatening to arrest them if they do not move," reads the complaint, according to Time Out Chicago. The suit was filed by civil-rights attorneys Adele Nicholas and Mark Weinberg.
(See footage of a police officer asserting that panhandling on Michigan Avenue is illegal above.)
According to the suit, one plaintiff, Kim Pindak, who is featured in the video, was begging on the corner of Delaware Street when a police officer told him panhandling in that area was illegal because "it is a tourist spot" where "there have been too many thefts," the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
But the attorneys representing the nine plaintiffs say those reasons don't justify harassment since their clients aren't breaking any laws.
"People do find panhandlers an annoyance," attorney Mark Weinberg told ABC Chicago. "But, the question is, Do we sacrifice Constitution rights because we find the a nuisance? And my answer is no."
The lawsuit argues that panhandling constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment, and says that the nine panhandlers named in the suit weren't disobeying the city's laws against "aggressive" begging, which forbid unwanted touching, following people or using abusive language, according to WBEZ.
The city's legal department says they have not yet seen the lawsuit and are unable to comment on the allegations.